It’s murder most funny as 20-somethings Prudence and Derek start Halloween by arriving late at the costume store— mostly because Derek hates anything to do with bodies, coffins, ghosts and all things ghoulish. Turns out, the store manager has a dead body he needs to offload, that he decides to stash in the local funeral home run by Derek’s somewhat kooky parents, Jeremy and Formalda Hyde.
Chapter 1 – The Costume Store
The Mortician’s Guide to Supportive Behavior
As a Funeral Director, you probably have a natural inclination to help others who are going through a tough time. However, if you aren’t careful, you could end up saying or doing something that makes the mourner of a dearly departed loved one feel invalidated.
With this in mind, it’s probably not helpful to say things like “Don’t worry, I’m sure it’s not your fault it took over a week to find your mother’s corpse in the tub.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Derek hated nothing more than a moonlit Halloween. Unless it was a moonless Halloween. In a funeral home. Being chased by a killer clown.
You see, he had phobias. Lots of phobias. And who could blame him? After all, he was raised in The Hyde Funeral Home & Body Parts Emporium by two pretty weird parents, Jeremy and Formalda Hyde.
I should know, I live down the street.
Not on the cemetery side. The only building on that side is the First Most Fundamental Evangelical Cathedral–more of a church, really. At least it was a church, until Sam Buglehorn and his wife turned it into Sam & Sandy’s Surf Board and Bikini Bottoms Shop. (I don’t know where you go for the tops. Maybe online.)
No, my house is on the other side, the residential side. Four doors down.
Anyway, I wanted to tell you all about Derek and his quirky parents and the murders. I wasn’t actually a part of it, of course, I was dealing with my old man’s death at the time.
Not that he died of old age. More like stupidity. I don’t know what he was thinking, but when he got locked out of the house and couldn’t find an open window, he decided to try the chimney. And it wasn’t even Christmas. We probably wouldn’t have found him, except for the smell.
But I digress.
So. I wasn’t there when everything happened to Derek, the stuff I’m telling you about. But sure as Santa, I heard enough of the pieces from everybody to put it all together. So I can vouch for the whole story.
By the way, I’m recording this, for transcription later. Or maybe I could run my recording through one of those voice recognition programs. I was planning to type it out on my PC, till I got my hand chewed up in the garbage disposal. My own fault. Don’t ask.
But getting back to Derek. A good kid, especially considering where he grew up. Not that his parents were bad people, far from it. Salt of the earth, really. We’ll, salt with a hefty slug of nutmeg.
It all started on Halloween.
Prudence had decided to drag poor Derek at four in the afternoon, in the rain, to a decrepit, badly lit costume store: The House of Mask & Magic. Way too late to be buying a costume, but then Derek was against the whole idea from the start.
Prudence pushed the store door open with her butt, which rang the somebody-just-walked-in-bell hanging above it. She stepped in backward, pulling on her reluctant boyfriend.
“Come on, Sweetie, we’re here now, so you might as well come in. I don’t know what you’re so afraid of.”
That’s the voice of Prudence, Derek’s girlfriend. I’m saying it with a higher pitch, so the transcriber will get that she was a girl. Well, a young lady, I should say. She was a looker, but with a practical flair that let everybody know she meant business. In a sweet sort of way. But no-nonsense sweet, if you know what I mean.
“I’m not afraid,” he said. “I’m just not crazy about Halloween.” (That’s Derek talking, a slightly goofy-looking guy, earnest and sincere and well intentioned.)
“But why be afraid? I’m not afraid. After all, this is just a time when kids go trick-or-treating. I think it’s cute.”
“You wouldn’t say that if you’d been raised in a spooky funeral home by crazy parents, the way I was. They had dead bodies all over the place. It was like Halloween every night.”
Prudence put her hands on her hips and shook her head. (Just like my mother used to do before the Thanksgiving turkey incident. Not really relevant, forget I said anything. The point is, I didn’t like it much, so I don’t think Derek did, either.)
“Sweetie, this isn’t your funeral home, and you knew we needed costumes. I really wish we hadn’t waited till the last minute.”
“It’s not the last minute…”
“Are you kidding? This is Halloween. Nobody waits till Halloween to get a costume.”
“Well, technically, it isn’t Halloween yet. Halloween means ‘Hollowed Evening’. But it’s only afternoon. So it’s sort of ‘Hallownoon’. See?”
Derek wasn’t very good at jokes, so he made up for it with a big smile. Prudence just stared at him. He tried covering up the awkward moment by taking command. He stepped up to the store register and slapped his hand on the counter, then pretended that didn’t hurt.
“OK. We just need a little help here. Hello? Is anybody here?”
Now, I should tell you more about the House of Mask & Magic. Most of the year, the store was filled with racks of magic kits, metal linking rings, card decks, foldable flower bouquets, silk scarves, top hots and black, shiny wands. And a collection of fake hands, arms, legs, feet and scary-looking heads. Traffic in the store was usually pretty light, mostly just horny young magicians looking for cool new tricks to impress girls and the occasional soccer moms on the hunt for party favors for their overindulged kids. Oh, and a few weirdo goths, because that’s what goths do.
But as Halloween came near, the manager always rolled out the clothes racks filled with costumes to turn anybody into a Frankenstein monster, werewolf, vampire, pirate, mermaid, Playboy bunny, Darth Vader, Princess Leia, Batman, Superman, Spiderman and—my personal favorite—Shrek. (Big and green. It suits me.)
That’s not what Derek and Prudence saw, though. They saw mostly empty racks, with only occasional remnants of costumes nobody would recognize, of characters nobody ever heard about. Leftovers and meager odds and ends. They didn’t notice as the store manager, a tall brooding man named Nussbaum, walked up behind them and spoke in a voice that sounded suspiciously like a broken cement mixer.
Derek wasn’t prepared for this. He wheeled around and almost fell down in fright.
Nussbaum wasn’t at all fazed. “Find what you wanted?”
Prudence was more socially adept. “Actually, no, we’re going to a masquerade party, and we both need costumes.”
“Most of the costumes are already gone.”
Prudence turned to Derek and gave him an I-told-you-so look. “See?”
Derek wasn’t deterred. “Okay, but can we see what you do have?”
Nussbaum shuffled over, took a costume from a nearby rack and handed it to Prudence. He stayed strangely in profile, never fully turning to face them.
“You might want to try this on. The dressing room is just behind there.” He pointed to a door at the back of the store.
Derek frowned. “What is it?”
“I’ll surprise us both,” Prudence answered. “Just give me a second.”
As she skipped to the dressing room, Derek looked more closely at the sinister store manager who seemed to prefer standing away from the light.
“You know, you look familiar. Have we met somewhere?”
Nussbaum shot him a suspicious glare. “What are you getting at?”
“I don’t know, it’s just … you look… I can’t quite put my finger on it…”
“Are you a cop?”
“A cop? Me? No, I just…”
Nussbaum’s shoulders relaxed. “Oh, I remember. You must be that kid, Derek, from the Hyde Funeral Home.”
“…and Body Parts Emporium.”
“Never mind. I did grow up in a funeral home, but—how did you know that?”
Nussbaum leaned over to tap Derek’s forehead with his index finger. “Think back. We were kids. Your family was moving in as they were pulling me out – for the fifth time.”
“Oh… Oh! You’re—”
“Yes, I’m…” He looked up at the ceiling. “An orphan.”
Derek shook his head. “Actually, I was going to say you’re that kid who didn’t want to leave. They called you—Nussbaum.” He looked the store manager up and down. “You’ve grown.”
“Yes, I’ve grown.” Nussbaum gave Derek the same once-over. “You, not so much.”
At this point, Prudence waltzed out from the changing room wearing a big red nose and dressed in a clown outfit, clearly too big for her. She walked up behind Derek and tapped him on the shoulder. He turned around and nearly dropped his pants, scared out of his wits.
This scared Prudence, who also screamed. Then they both yelled again, right in each other’s faces.
Prudence pulled off her bulbous nose and hit Derek on the arm.
“What’s wrong with you?”
“What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with you? Why would you dress up like that?
“What are you talking about? It’s just a clown costume.”
She peered into his face. “A clown costume? Hello? What? Are you afraid of clowns?
Nussbaum didn’t hide his smirk. “Awkward…”
Prudence took on a more motherly tone. “Aw, is it because of all those horrible zombie clowns who attacked you in your youth?”
Derek wasn’t having any of that. “No. But clowns, they’re just bloodthirsty, and ax murderers, and chainsaw serial killers—”
“Sure, in horror movies… I’m surprised you would even watch those.”
He folded his arms. “Well, I don’t like it, so take that outfit off.”
Her head went back. “Excuse me?”
“I said, take it off.”
Hands on hips, she gave him her worse scowl. “I will not. And I’ve had about enough of you. First you procrastinate like crazy, then you make me practically drag you here, then you yell in my face, and now you’re ordering me around. Who do you think you are?”
“He’s Derek,” Nussbaum interjected.
“I know his name is Derek, thank you very much.” She turned back to her boyfriend. “I’ve been so nice, and you’ve been terrible. I’m not talking to you.”
Since Derek’s mom didn’t raise any dummies, he changed tack right away.
“Look, I’m sorry, really. I can’t stand it when you’re mad. There are lots of things I can take—lots of things—” He motioned at the clown costume she was wearing “—but when I see that unhappy face—” He touched her face “—it’s much worse than a serial killer clown.”
Prudence thought about this for a second. Then she took on a more forgiving tone. “Okay, I’m not mad any more—well, a little mad.”
“And you’ll change your costume?”
“All right, I’ll change this costume if it means so much to you.”
Derek stopped holding his breath. “Thank you.”
He turned to Nussbaum and asked, “Do you have anything else she can try?”
Nussbaum frowned, then his forehead cleared. “Well, I do have one idea…”
He looked toward the back of the shop and shouted, “Albert!”
Derek looked at him sideways. “Albert?”
A voice echoed from the back storeroom. “Yes boss?”
“Do we still have that dress out back? You haven’t burned it yet?”
Now Derek was really confused. “Burned it?”
Nussbaum grunted. “Yep, it was last year’s model. But it’s still in good shape. It’s only been worn once, at a—ceremony.”
He went to the storeroom and returned with a wedding dress and veil. The dress, ragged and dirty, looked as if it had been in a recent bar brawl, with a big red stain on the front. He held it up proudly, but again, purposely stayed in profile.
“What do you think?”
Prudence stepped in to take over. “It’s terrible. And it has a stain on it. Is that blood?”
“No,” Nussbaum insisted. “I call this my ‘Bride of Dracula’ dress. That’s just–uh–stage blood. For effect.”
“Hm… don’t you have anything else?”
Nussbaum gave her a crooked smile. “How about Barney, the purple dinosaur? I have three of those left.”
He held up masks of U.S. presidents in each hand. “Barack Obama? Donald Trump?”
Prudence sighed and shrugged. “Never mind… Okay, ‘Bride of Dracula’ it is.”
She grabbed the dress and headed back to the dressing room.
Derek looked through some other costumes on the rack and spoke to Nussbaum as he fumbled through the meager pickings he saw there. “So you’re that Nussbaum kid who wouldn’t leave the funeral home…”
“It wasn’t a funeral home then, it was my home. The bank took it when they found my parents—or pieces of them.”
Derek stopped what he was doing. “Pieces of them? That’s horrible! What happened?”
“Nothing. An accident. An explosion.”
“Wow, I’m sorry to hear that. How did it happen?”
Nussbaum glared at his stupid customer. “I told you. An accident.”
Derek mumbled, “Well, at least you weren’t hurt…”
Nussbaum stepped into the light and for the first time turned to show his left profile. “Maybe you didn’t see my face.”
That was when it happened, and not for the last time.
As soon as he said the word, “face,” ominous music came out of nowhere, as if they were in a movie. It went, “DUHN-DUHN-DUUUUUUHHHNN.”
They both looked up and around, trying to understand where this music came from.
Then Derek looked more closely at Nussbaum and became more confused than ever. His left profile looked just the same as his right.
“But—I don’t get it. Your face looks fine. I don’t see the problem.”
Nussbaum gave him a testy sneer. “No, people never do. That’s what they pretend. But they don’t fool me. I know they find my disfiguration too horrible to take. I know, I know.”
He exited through the back storeroom door, slamming it.
At this point, Prudence came out of the dressing room wearing the stained wedding dress. In spite of its shabbiness, she looked radiant, even beautiful.
“Well? What do you think?”
Derek was beside himself. “Wow. You look fantastic. You’re stunning!”
Prudence gave him a dismissive cluck of her tongue. “Sure, now you think I look good, when I’m dressed as a monster.”
“No, really, you’re—I don’t know—exquisite.”
Prudence was flattered after all, and turned to pose in a full-length mirror to the right of the counter.
“You really think so?”
“Definitely. It’s eerie, but you’re really unbelievably striking, attractive, gorgeous—dazzling.”
Prudence looked in the mirror again, rotating her hip. “I guess it’s not that bad.”
“Bad? It’s great. You’re the most amazing Bride of Dracula I’ve ever seen. In fact…”
She looked at him with suspicion. “What?”
“Marry me, Prudence. I just can’t help myself, I love you. I’m mad about you. I’m addicted to you. In fact, I’ve got a great idea. Let’s get married tonight.”
She took a step back. “On Halloween? Not bloody likely.”
“But just think, it’d be so easy to remember our anniversary.”
“Now, why do I find that romantic?”
Derek gave her a hopeful look. “Does that mean it’s a Yes?”
“In your dreams.” She stepped closer and touched his face. “Sweetie, you’re really wonderful, and funny, and adorable, and clever, and—”
“And you love me? You’re crazy about me? You get breathless when I walk into the room?”
She shook her head. “Hold on, cowboy. If I ever do fall madly in love, I won’t be one of those fawning women who faints at the sight of her man and sits by the phone all night hoping he’ll call. I’ll handle it with grace. Quiet dignity. Self esteem.
“And for me, being in love will be amazing, phenomenal, earth-shattering.”
“Besides, marriage is a huge step. And there are things a girl has to think about.”
“Well, if you must know, I’m a little worried about your phobias.”
“Phobias? I don’t have any– oh, you mean the clown thing. But everybody’s afraid of clowns.”
“I’m not afraid of clowns. Or costume stores, or Halloween, or coffins, or graves—”
“Okay, I get your point.”
“—or corpses, or funeral homes, or—”
“Okay, Okay. I get it.”
She put her hand on his cheek. “Can’t we just keep things just as they are? I do love you, you know.”
“Well, that’s something, anyway. But I’m still going to keep asking.”
“So your feelings aren’t hurt? You’re okay to go to the masquerade party?”
“Lead on, McDuff.”
“And if we have time, let’s stop to see your parents on the way. I know they’d enjoy seeing our costumes.”
“Stop by to see my crazy parents at the funeral home tonight? On Halloween? No way.”
“See, that’s what I’m talking about. Where’s that strong courageous figure of man I know you can be? Come on, it’ll be great. Besides, I think you have the greatest parents ever, really kooky and fun.”
“I have the strangest parents ever. They’re not just kooky, they’re certifiably weird. I’ve seriously considered getting them committed.”
“What are you talking about? They’re sweet, they’re generous and kind. And they’re completely unpretentious. It’ll be great. Besides, I always enjoy seeing how they’ve decorated for Halloween. And you know they adore me.”
“Hey, here’s an idea. How about if we go see your parents instead?”
“Oh no, they hate you. That’s going to take more time than we’ve got tonight.”
“Wait, what? They hate me?”
She ignored him, busily figuring things out. “No, if we’re going to share this with family, it should be your family.”
“They hate me?”
“Pay attention, Sweetheart, you’re repeating yourself.” She looked at her watch. “If we leave now, we’ll have plenty of time.”
“They hate me?”
Nussbaum appeared from the back storeroom. “Sorry, I got bored and drifted off. Did you want to buy costumes or not?”
This brought Derek back to the point. “Oh, right, I almost forgot. We still need a costume for me. Do you have something really appropriate that goes with the wedding dress?”
“Oh, you mean like a bridesmaid dress.” Nussbaum looked him up and down. “Nope, sorry.”
“No, I don’t mean a bridesmaid dress. I mean something like a Count Dracula costume.”
“Nope. Sorry. All out… Wait a minute—” He shouted to the back storeroom. “Albert!”
“Yes boss?” came the disembodied voice.
“Where’s that zombie nurse’s outfit?”
“It’s back here.”
Derek ran his hand through his hair. “Thanks anyway, but I honestly don’t want to go as a zombie nurse. White stockings with white shoes really creep me out.”
“You know,” Prudence said. “I’m thinking you must have watched a lot of horror movies as a kid.”
Nussbaum shook his head. “It’s not for the shoes and stockings. One second.”
He went to the back storeroom and returned with a costume. He pulled a short nurse’s cape from the rest of the outfit. It was only waist length, but at least it was black with a red satin lining.
“Here. I can let you have the nurse’s cape and some Dracula teeth. If you slick back your hair, put on a black suit and talk with a Transylvanian accent, you’ll make a passable Dracula.”
Derek narrowed his eyes, but put on the cape. Seeing his reflection in the mirror, he grinned, grabbed a piece of the cape, swung his arm in front of his mouth and spoke in a Transylvanian accent. “Good ideeea. I theenk it will work. I’ll take it.”
Then he turned to Prudence and once again gave his best Bela Lugosi imitation. “I never drink—wine.”
He started to kiss her neck, but Prudence pushed him away laughing, “Sto-op.”
Derek, finally proud of himself, strode to the register to pay. Nussbaum rang him up as Prudence made one last twirl in the mirror.
“I think I’ll just wear this dress home.”
Derek talked over his shoulder as he paid. “Good idea.” He gathered up his costume and the clothes Prudence had been wearing. He turned to her with renewed confidence.
“Well, we’re all set. We’ll just go to my place, scarf down some supper and get me all duded up as Dracula. We can be at my parents’ by eight.” He added to Nussbaum, again in a Transylvanian accent, “Sorry to rush, but we have to fly.”
He put his caped arm around Prudence and together they headed for the door.
Nussbaum barely looked up. “Don’t forget your fangs.”
“Oh, right.” Derek grabbed a small package from the counter and ushered Prudence through the door to the double-ding of the hanging store bell.
Nussbaum ignored them. He opened his laptop computer and mumbled to himself as he typed. “Hyde Funeral Home… Hyde Funeral Home… Yes.”
End Chapter 1
By Michael Lunsford
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